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fi0"Let it let up!" Sandy argued, "You ain't goin' nowhere till you finish this muthuh!"
"We may miss lunch," I warned.
"If you don't start readin'," Bechet warned, "we'll miss dinner, too."
I had never had a more attentive or appreciative audience in my young career. I read the last half of the book with a feeling of pride and empowerment. Until that afternoon, I had no idea that I could sight-read a whole novel without making any major gaffes. From the applause and the continuing discussion, I felt that I had done very well-but maybe not. That was sixty years ago and until recently, when the president of New Millenium Audio asked me if I would like to record A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, no one had asked me to read another book. Unlike Paul Petroff, who only asked me to read that one book, New Millenium Audio has since contracted with me to do a half dozen of Mr. Twain's great works. To be honest, though, Paul Petroff has done more to make my life richer and fuller than any audio company ever could. Besides suggesting I read The Metamorphosis aloud, Paul had earlier, at one fateful Saturday night dance, told me about his new, late-arriving, shapely brunette assistant, Estelle Lebost. His exact words were, "Be nice to her, ask her to dance!" I did as I was told-I asked her to dance, and I was nice to her all that summer. That was fifty-nine years ago, and I am still being nice to her, as she is to me.
The Phar-Reaching Phart
I have had many heightened moments in my life, some pleasant, some painful. This is one of the painful ones. I am aware that the spelling of the word phart is not the commonly accepted one. I chose it to avoid offending the more gentle of my gentle readers.
I was born in apartment number 27 of a Bronx apartment building on the corner of Belmont Avenue and 179th Street. In 1922, my mother, like most immigrant women, chose to give birth at home where she could be sure that the child she breast-fed and smothered with love would be of her and her husband's blood and not some total stranger's. Horror stories of babies being switched at birth by careless nurses in overcrowded wards were too rampant to ignore. Home delivery, of course, posed some dangers, but my parents were comforted by the knowledge that three years earlier my mother had successfully delivered my brother, Charlie, by the same Dr. Neuschatz in that same apartment and in that same bed. Charlie, in effect, was my stalking horse, and in the years to come, he continued to be that for me.
I spent my kindergarten and first-grade years attending the ancient, overcrowded Public School 57, which was located two blocks away between Belmont and Crotona Avenues. By the time I was ready to enter the third grade, the construction of a new school, just a scant three hundred yards from my home, was completed, and I became one of the first pupils to attend RS. 92.
Before I entered kindergarten, I was considered a bright child simply because my father, whom my mother called Irving and I called Papa, took the time to teach me how to print my full name, recite the alphabet, and fill a page with numbers from one to a hundred. For appearing to be gifted, I was invited to skip half of first grade and go right to second grade. My parents proudly accepted the invitation. This decision and a later one that sent me to rapid-advance classes at Junior High School 45, by which I gained a full year, had a profound effect on me.
I graduated from Evander Childs High School in June of '38 at the age of sixteen. Being a year and a half younger and light-years less mature than my sexually adventurous peers made me feel like an outsider, a feeling that still dogs me. But hey, who's complaining! Being an "outsider" has given me the quiet time to ponder ways to behave like an "insider," which I think I have mastered.
My first day at P.S. 92 was a traumatic one. That morning, I awoke with a slight nausea and no appetite.
Copyright © 2003 by Carl Reiner